A Garden Grove man accused of illegally imported protected Asian arowana fish — an expensive freshwater aquarium variety thought in some cultures to bring luck, prosperity and health — pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges.
Shawn Naolu Lee, 29, entered his plea in Los Angeles to charges of conspiracy, illegally importing wildlife, and creating false documentation. He was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gail J. Standish to return to the courthouse Nov. 14 for trial. If convicted of all charges, Lee would face up to 30 years behind bars.
Lee and a co-defendant, thought to be in Southeast Asia, were indicted last week in connection with the discovery of a parcel containing eight arowanas imported and received from Indonesia. Arowanas — also known as “arrows” and “dragon fish” — sell on the black market for at least $1,000 each, court documents show.
The fish were allegedly hidden in plastic bags placed in porcelain pots. In a sting operation, Lee allegedly signed for delivery of the parcel at his parent’s home where he was living, according to an affidavit. A search of the residence allegedly turned up more than $15,000 in cash in Lee’s room, the document said.
The colorful Asian arowana is protected by the Endangered Species Act and cannot legally be brought into the United States. However, in some Asian communities, the fish is thought to bring wealth and protection to businesses, and some owners believe the fish can understand their thoughts.
—City News Service
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